“I have, obviously, shit to say,” said Rose McGowan earlier this week at a suite in New York’s Edition Hotel, where she was promoting her directorial debut, the short film, Dawn. “I’m not saying it’s good stuff, but I’m saying I’ve got stuff to say.” For almost 30 minutes, McGowan and I talked about Hollywood (McGowan is best known for her roles in things like Scream, Charmed, and The Doom Generation), fame at a young age (“It fucked me up”), and the controversial statements she made last year on Bret Easton Ellis’s podcast regarding misogyny amongst gay men and the state of the struggle (“I see now people who have basically fought for the right to stand on top of a float wearing an orange Speedo and take molly”).
Having written about those statements, I couldn’t wait to talk to McGowan about that last point specifically, and she did not disappoint. She was quick, fiery, and poised to argue but seemingly happy to explain. We hurtled through a series of topics and I’m preserving much of our conversation in the transcript below (which has been lightly condensed and edited for clarification).
But first, here’s Dawn in its entirety:
And here’s Rose and me:
Gawker: Making this movie was sort of a political act for you, right?
Rose McGowan: That’s a really interesting way to couch it. You’re the first person who said so. I would agree with you. It is. I tried to make it a very layered piece. I wanted to say something about class disparity without saying it, and you can do that by just having perfect furniture and somebody who’s got dingy jeans sitting on it. And then the two men that she references in the movie are Tab Hunter and Rock Hudson, both gay. All that stuff is not on accident.
Why make a short instead of a feature? Are you dipping your toe in?
No, I was really inspired by the exercise Hemingway gave his writer friends, which was to see if they could write a full story in six words. His was “Baby shoes for sale, never worn.” That always resonated with me. I saw a lot of movies that couldn’t seem to tell a full story in two and a half hours. I wanted to see if I could do a full story in 18 minutes. It was actually just a personal challenge. I think a lot of shorts are made trying to get them made into features and I actually don’t want to make Dawn into a feature. It is what it is. It stands on its own.
In terms of content, it seems like there’s a pro-woman, if not feminist, guiding hand at work.
It’s just shining a light on something. I don’t know if that means feminist. I would hope that a man could have easily done this, too.
He wouldn’t have, though.
He wouldn’t have, that’s the thing. I mean, the sad part is that there are a lot of male writers and they’re told to write what they know and they write men. That’s how we come up with some not very complex characters.
But then the alternative is something like Top Five. Have you seen that?
Literally he was a scapegoat? A punching bag?
Yeah. And it struck me: This is what happens when straight men write gay characters.
But what if I had made it? Would I have gotten reamed? Yes.
You think so?
Yes. I would never do that because my friends are men and women that happen to be gay. They’re not gay first. It’s just [about] people understanding that it’s humans first. To say Dawn is feminist, yes, but it’s because I’m a woman so it has to be, but I’m a humanist. But how you felt about seeing that gay character, imagine how I feel about seeing women in movies all the time. Or playing them.
Do you regret anything you’ve played?
Yes. (Laughs) I had a very big agent who basically did the mind-meld on me: “Do this movie about wrestling.” I threw the script in the garbage three times because that’s where it deserved to be. It was Ready to Rumble. It was a lot of money. She just didn’t care, and I mistook her for someone who was a strong woman. What she really was was a mercenary woman. And there’s a difference—and one who didn’t like me, either. A lot of agents aren’t supportive of their talent in any way. Nobody’s understood how to represent me, which is why, other than film publicists, I currently have no representation other than my lawyer. I don’t need it. She said, “If you do this movie for Warner Bros, they’ll stick you in the next Clint Eastwood movie.” OK, I do the stupid movie, I’m trying to have an out-of-body experience the whole time, like, “How is this happening to me? I can’t believe I agreed to do this.” And I did it, I brought it, ‘cause that’s what I do. And it was silly and, whatever, harmless. But not really—it was really harmful to me.
In my psyche, it was very harmful for me. And I was so deeply uncomfortable. And of course, I come to find out that the Clint Eastwood people didn’t know me from Adam. She just straight-up lied. And that was very common in my history.
I assume there’s no coincidence that you’re making your foray into filmmaking in your 40’s...
Not at all.
Really? Because 40 is when they say...
You don’t understand my life, first of all. I spent the last seven years dismantling...I have a very big life beyond what people see on the outside, including you. And that’s understandable because I never told anybody anything. I’m not one of those people that goes on TV and gives everybody updates on my current movements. I’m a businesswoman, I own a lot of businesses, a lot of real estate, I’m kind of a baller in many other worlds. This one I came back to a year and a half ago, like, “Oh wait, I’m an artist. Hey, OK, I got this.” Has nothing to do with my age, nothing to do with disappearing roles. I disappeared from the roles long before they disappeared from me ‘cause I didn’t care. There was no reason to care. I was bringing it and nobody else around me was. I worked with a lot of great directors, possibly on their lazier projects. Acting has nothing to do with what I’m directing.
But does your time in Hollywood have anything to do with it?
There’s a dearth of female directors...
No. It’s completely coincidental.
It just happened to be that I was like, “Oh.” The problem for me was that I would get on set and I would be shocked at the house my character was in or shocked that these are the actors that are across from me, shocked that these are the clothes I’m wearing. “What is happening?” It was because I directed the whole thing in my head. I was just in the wrong job. It’s not really that dramatic. I was just in the wrong job.
A large part of it was I was discovered and within a year and a half, I was famous. And when you spend your life playing and being other people, it’s fucked up. You’re only you in your off time. And when I got stuck on a TV show, that was about 15 hours a day for five years straight, other than like a month and a half in the summer. I was so exhausted, there’s not a lot of time for personal development.
I don’t feel like sticking myself in a movie. If I had the motivation I believe you possibly felt I had, would I not be sticking myself in the movie? Creating a part for myself? I have not.
The stereotype is that there are no good roles...
But that doesn’t even matter to me. I don’t want to act, so it doesn’t matter.
I’m stepping up because no one else is. There are some, they’re starting to get louder, but I realized as an artist you’re in an un-fireable position. And actually we all are. All of us humans cannot be fired from being ourselves. We can be fired from our jobs, we can not be hired for a job, but we can’t be fired. We’re us. And we’re legion. And it’s an amazing feeling and an amazing, empowered feeling.
Is it an amazing feeling being Rose McGowan?
Right now it is. I earned it. I fucking earned it. I had a very colorful life way before Hollywood. I spent my life surviving. And I’m not in survival mode right now and that’s an amazing thing.
You said if you’d done the gay character in Top Five, you would have been reamed for it. Do you think you were reamed last year [for your comments about gay male apathy]?
That was bullshit.
Why was that bullshit? Because I was actually speaking very specifically about a group of guys in West Hollywood that were mad at me. I was not speaking about all gays. That’s dumb. They can’t all fit on a float, I know this. That was hatcheted up, and I think it’s ‘cause I went after, honestly, some leaders in the gay community and so as payback they kind of hatcheted up what I said, and I was like, “Really? What’s what you’re going to do?” And the problem is now, there are so many people that are keyboard activists. “I feel pious because I don’t go to the Beverly Hills Hotel.” You know what, why don’t you feel pious by not going to a movie and not getting gas? Why don’t you feel pious about [Richard] Branson who’s like, “I’ll never let any of my Virgin employees stay there,” and then he just did a huge deal with Brunei? So, shut up. The reality is the Beverly Hills Hotel is a living history museum. We don’t have many of those in Los Angeles. My thing was about saving it, and also, duh: don’t protest it, take it over. It was pretty ballsy to have a party with 100 gay guys and women there and have them make out in the hallway. Those pictures I sent to the sultan.
Of course. And the pull quotes were cut up, as they do. It was shocking at first. It’s very weird to have a phone where you can touch an app and all this hate or whatever comes through. And it’s like, “You’re not even understanding—I’m speaking about a very specific group of people who are very 1 percent.” How many people are really protesting the Beverly Hills Hotel? What percentage of the 99 versus the 1 percent is feeling pious because they’re not going and getting a $35 cheeseburger? I don’t care about the cheeseburger. I care about the employees and I care about the place itself. It’s living and breathing. There’s so much history there and I’m basically an amateur Hollywood historian. I’m on the board of the Film Noir Society. I also did a show on TCM. I’ve studied film since I was 4 with my father. The classic film stuff is in my blood. So for me, it was really just about that. And it was also about the gay community...maybe needs to be shook up a little. Why are there sacred cows? These are men first. So why would they be different? And in fact, they can put a lot of their lives together completely excluding women. I know they relate on the underdog part, but what happens when you’re no longer the underdog?
I think that gay people are still underdogs largely per the legislation of our country.
Largely. Of course.
But it’s like you were saying, your movie’s feminist because you’re a humanist...
Right, so there’s a gay struggle because it exists because you are. It will cease. It will come. It’s the fastest growing civil rights movement in United States history, and I’m fucking proud of how far you guys and women have come. I’m fucking proud of it, but you forget the women. Believe me, I hear the gays, and I’ll use the word slander... [from] my friends, my gay friends...I was a runaway taken in by three trans women and a stripper named Tina, and I grew up protecting the kids on the playground. I was an outsider. I was a weirdo. I was Wednesday Addams from the Addams Family, basically—the Addams Family of intellectuals and activists. We were the weirdos on every block everywhere, and that was fucking great because I didn’t bother fitting in. My mother asked me if I wanted to assimilate more and I said, “Look at their shoes. No.”
To have people that are not fully developed in their brains torture other people just because they challenge something, just by existing. That’s not fair and that’s not OK in my book, so I’ll fight for them. I was out there, believe me, the night of Prop 8, marching. And I thought that was mishandled. There’s so many things, but there is a pay-it-forward part of this that needs to be happening.
Did you like what Patricia Arquette said after the Oscars?
Of course I did. Because she’s right.
I thought she was right, too. A lot of people felt like she wasn’t being intersectional enough...
Why should she be? Are you guys?
You, maybe specifically.
I’m interviewing you...
I’m interviewing you.
No, I’m not saying, “I’M interviewing YOU.” I’m saying I’m interested in what women (and people of color) do. My job is not activist but it is to be aware, and I care...
And I appreciate that.
I do my small part.
Right. It’s a small part and it can be bigger.
I think that’s the bigger point, there’s this utter selfishness in contemporary American culture...
That’s the thing! That’s what I’m talking about. That’s what I want: people to be 10 percent better. Ten percent better versions of themselves. That’s it. If people were just 10 percent better, including myself, in all areas, in heart, in soul, in design, in thought...like, go one step beyond the obvious. And then, you’ll have a lot more understanding of other people and I think the world will actually change. And it’s not that hard. And the paying it forward to me—I hate that term, but I don’t know what else to call it—is, for me when it hit a moment, was the vote. I was waiting for the NAACP, I was waiting for the gay rights leaders, I was waiting for them to denounce that vote on the senate floor voting down equal pay for women. I’m like, “Do you not represent women ostensibly? Do they not pay your dues as well?” Where are you? That’s not OK. So I was angry that day [of the podcast], but I was also angry about being misinterpreted by a group of people from West Hollywood primarily, so that’s who I was talking to. I’ve had some time to think about it and maybe I’m right. Not for everybody. Not with a huge, sweeping generalization. I have gay friends who donated to NARAL and Planned Parenthood on my behalf. Like I said, everyone can’t fit on a float. I wanna be a on a float, I’ve been on a float, I know how many people can fit on a float.
I haven’t been on a float in 10 years.
I’ve been on a float, and I’ll rock that shit.
I haven’t done molly in a year, either.
It doesn’t work on me. I’ve tried. It sucks. It’s so unfair. I think I was the only sober person at Coachella. I wanted to kill myself.
The older I get the more wary I am of doing a drug that’s going to fuck up my next day, my next two days, my next three days.
That’s the thing, in like 10 years or whatever, you have no idea. But my father...one of the things I champion is I’m on the board of the Daughters of Pulmonary Fibrosis. It’s a horrible disease that killed my dad. He was a vegan for 25 years, hiked two hours a day way before it was popular. He would put our cereal in brown paper bags. Never owned a microwave. And he got a horrible lung disease that is idiopathic, so it’s not caused by anything in specific, and it killed him. And he was a giant of a man. It was like watching the lion of the pride go behind the bush to die. It was intense.
That was part of the last seven years for me. Recovering from being paralyzed in my right arm. Recovering from a car accident. Basically, everything had to break in order for me to reform, to become myself not [only] in the off period. Imagine everyday you go to work, you’re saying something someone else wrote for you to say. You’re not even speaking for yourself. It’s very strange. I have, obviously, shit to say. (Laughs) I’m not saying it’s good stuff, but I’m saying I’ve got stuff to say.
How much did being a young famous person fuck you up?
It fucked me up. It didn’t fuck me up in terms of turning into a cliche. I was never arrested, I never did any of that stuff. I had always wanted to go dance on a table in a red dress but because of the environment at the time—the internet was crazy, it was the Lindsay Lohan era—I just left. I was like, “Peace out, losers. This is not my bag. I’m not playing this game. I will not be for sale.” I had a publicist that was like, “Why don’t you call me one day when you’re looking cute?” I was like, “Excuse me?” She said, “We’ll send our photographer down so we can get coverage, you know if you’re in a store and you look cute.” I was like, “What?” I thought about it for about two seconds and was like, “I absolutely cannot do that.” My father used to collect Edward S. Curtis prints and he did a lot of amazing prints of Native Americans and studied that culture. My father did as well. They say they feel the camera steals your soul. So I’m here to steal others.
But you’re not going to continue the cycle?
No. I never did, really. My thing was always like, “You want me to play on the red carpet? Let’s fucking play. Let’s go hard. You want me to play? You want me to be your show pony? I’ll be your fucking show pony.” Why not? Why is everything a sacred cow? I realized that all of these rules that are put down for us, they’re all illusions. They’re not there. I’m not saying, “Fuck you,” to the rules, the rules simply don’t exist.
That’s what irritates me when people complain about societal expectations. It’s like...
I don’t care! It’s like Madonna says: I’m not your bitch, don’t hang your shit on me. If this is how you want to approach marriage, do it. Don’t put it on me. If this is how you want to approach your religion, do it. Don’t put it on me. Whatever your deal is, do it. Keep your side of the street clean and leave mine alone, ‘cause your thought doesn’t count unless I invite you in and maybe we can exchange thoughts and be better and that’s amazing.
[Image via Getty]